Neil Berg is a renowned Broadway composer, performer, and producer. But back in high school, when he had to choose between theatre and baseball (due to the time conflict), he chose baseball. “It killed me. It really hurt me. Because I saw all these people doing the plays, and I wanted to but couldn’t. Baseball was my passion at that time,” Berg recalled in a telephone conversation on Monday. Berg went on to be an all-state center fielder at Binghamton University, where he also rediscovered theater – so it all worked out. But to Berg, it should never have had to have been a choice. Kids should be encouraged to do both: play sports and engage with the arts. Such will be the message on Saturday when Berg puts on two Broadway-level shows, Broadway and Baseball For Kids (1pm) and Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel (7pm), at Nyack High School.
“What I want is to give people who can’t afford Broadway, or don’t normally get taken to it, a chance to experience it, to see real Broadway stars perform real Broadway songs,” Berg said. The show will benefit the Nyack Valley Cottage Little League, which Berg serves as a board member; he’s also a parent of Lucas, a 12-year-old who plays in the league. “Then I also want to relate it to baseball, because that’s the theme, it’s what we’re doing it for, and I think the little leaguers will think it’s cool.”
The two shows will feature Berg at the piano, doing what he’s nationally renowned for, singing songs and telling stories. “People usually are fascinated,” he said of the stories. “They all know Elton John and Billy Joel; they’ve all heard these songs – but they might not know the stories behind the songs. So it’s not a play, but it’s a concert with storytelling. There’s no band for this particular one. It’s an intimate tribute. We do it on purpose so people can really hear the lyrics.”
While there won’t be a band, Berg will be joined on stage by an all-star cast of Broadway performers, including Richard Todd Adams (of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables), Jeannette Bayardelle (of The Color Purple), Berg’s wife, Rita Harvey (of The Phantom of the Opera and Fiddler on the Roof), Michael Park (an Emmy Award winner, for As The World Turns), Nicola and Robert Royston (#1 Swing Dance Champions in the World)), Danny Zolli (of Jesus Christ Superstar and British Rock Symphony), Michael Lanning (of The Civil War, Bonnie & Clyde, and TransSiberian Orchestra), and Nyack High School alumni, Rupert Holmes (known for his hit song, “Escape.”).
How did Berg land such big names to play at Nyack High School for a $20-$25 NVCLL benefit show? “A, it was my relationship,” he said. “But also, I think they feel the same way I do. There’s a great support for kids. And there’s also the idea of combining athletics and the arts, which is, I think, something that everyone feels strongly about.”
Part of the reason that Berg and his fellow performers are so keen to intertwine athletics and the arts is because the two worlds are so often dismissive of one another. “In my generation – I’m 50 – it was almost frowned upon,” Berg said of being an athlete who also took to theatre. “You either played music in a band or you were a jock. And I was never that way. I was both.”
The jock-artist binary certainly hasn’t faded completely. Berg’s story, for instance, pretty closely resembles the hit 2006 Disney Channel movie, High School Musical, in which the 21st century protagonist is met with epic resistance when he tries to have his dance and dribble too. Maybe a ten year old Disney flick’s not the best reflection of contemporary culture — but, err, then again, Berg will incorporate some Disney songs into the show. “I don’t want to alienate anyone’s sisters or younger brothers,” he said. “I just want it to be an eclectic, grand old time.”
 Tickets to a similar show put on by Berg at Lincoln Center, in New York City, have gone for as much as $1,000.
Tickets for Broadway and Baseball For Kids and Piano Men: A Tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel are on sale now at nvcll.org.